3.PLANNING FOR WARMINSTER(November 20, 2009)
*SEE ALSO CORE STRATEGY IN MAJOR TOWN ISSUES SECTION
WARMINSTER is still very much a market town but the bucolic image of yesteryear needs to be brought up to date if it is to become a success in the future .
We should be frustrated at the lack of vision of how it goes forward. Some people think it is nice to have a relatively quiet pace of life. There is also a strong feeling that nothing can be done.
It is very obvious that every time there is one person with a positive idea to put forward it provokes a knee-jerk reaction from ten others about why it will not work. . We need a new approach. We need the town to evolve a vision that will give it the best chance in coming decades to be described not as a great place in William Cobbett’s time but a great place today and in the future.
It clearly isn’t a great place today as the greatest ambition of many of our most able young people is to leave the town.
Why shouldn’t they? There is nothing much in the evening for them to do here other than drink in a pub and see a film once a month.
Home rule bring benefits
Too much current development control has been aimed at saying what cannot happen in Warminster. But now we have the chance now to say what can and should happen and galvanise the community to achieve it.
It is clear that Warminster as one of five towns governed locally from Trowbridge for the last three decades did not fit easily into the model that was drawn up by the powers that be.
Trowbridge, Westbury, Melksham and Bradford-on-Avon are one type of Wiltshire town. A lot was based on the viewpoint of councillors from those towns. Warminster is very different and with the unitary council and area boards we will be able to formulate policies to reflect that difference.
The immediate need to secure the long-term future is three-fold:-
1. Attracting new technological businesses and providing a new types of employment opportunity to Warminster.
2.Identifying a new stock of housing directed at meeting the changing needs and demographics of our population, particularly the young.
3.The establishment of a major commercial leisure centre is sorely needed designed to accommodate several activities not currently available to the town..
Defence Business Park
As the town is surrounded geographically by a landscape that is quite rightly regarded as very special and we should capitalise on this in our efforts to attract new enterprise.
The way forward is use what we have within the town that is left for development properly and to identify sites where we can work co-operatively with the owners on a new approach.
To that end it would be part of our vision to to explore with the owners of the 'ABRO' site as it is commonly known (DE&S) to see this become a shared military/civilian site with as much land as they can spare being allocated to the development of the 'Akehurst Defence Technology Park'.
Towns as well as countries should build their commercial futures around the economic principle of ‘comparative advantage’ and in Warminster’s case this is its military links and expertise.
In a new approach to housing we should insist on the same stipulations to any major new shopping development that may come to the town as has applied to recent major housing property development. A high proportion of targeted accommodation. The 'living above the shop' approach should be used.
Few large housing sites are likely to be developed here for many years but those that are should be high density aimed at young people while other high density development, with covenants, should be for over 60s to mop up the swelling grey population. Money from developers earmarked for infrastructure through so-called 106 agreement should be aimed at benefiting the whole Warminster community.
Leisure and night-time economy
At the moment the town lacks a whole host of things like a cinema, bowling alley, go-kart track and ice-skating rinks. While there is still some land available at the business parks on the edge of town a slight tweaking of the plans could allow leisure employment. Could developers money be used for these.?
Should the question be asked? 'Is all that asphalt needed at Granada Services for the number of HGVs that use it?'
Another positive approach would be to take a look at sites in the town that are wrongly used. Employment areas that grew up during the era of the horse and cart may need a new approach.
New businesses that require access by inappropriate sized vehicles or an inordinate number of vehicles have in the past been allowed to locate inappropriately especially at a time when unemployment was very high.
We have a lot of other ideas for our vision which are currently part of the planning process. They mostly relate to good ideas for the development of smaller brownfield sites.
Enhancing the look of the town and further improving leisure opportunities as well as encouraging better services will also feature. They will appear in other later sections of our visionforwarminster web-site.
Full Town Appraisal
It is time for a full town appraisal to be carried out to form the bedrock on which we encourage the town to evolve. Future decisions must be made on the soundest knowledge.
Let us also have the answer to any question that a new potential employer might have of us.
Is it a fact or a myth that the town has become a retirement area for the elderly? Is it fact or myth that there is not enough accommodation for single young people? Do we lose too many young people? It fact or myth that there are too many empty shops that will always be there? Is it fact or myth Warminster mostly has low-paid jobs? There are so many pre-conceived ideas.
It may be that too many high profile sites have been used for the elderly. A natural consequence of them wanting to live close to amenities. The problem may be that young people do not have a strong enough voice to let us know about their experiences of trying to live here. It may be that it is time to evolve a new use for some of our shops.
If there is a problem then let us have the facts to work on. Too often in the past glossy photos and words have literally 'glossed' over the cracks. A lot of good words were written towards the end of the last century so as this decade ends let us do the survey and find out where they took us.
Let's Talk Warminster Up!
Warminster is a very attractive Wiltshire location. Trowbridge, Swindon and Chippenham have done a good job of pulling important companies their way. Now we must make it our turn.
The internet has made it possible for most major sectors of employment to be located in a new way. Centralisation should be made a thing of the past and Warminster should evolve to take advantage of that.
If recession is going to hit badly we still have the scope to interest cash-pressed businesses. They should be presented with the opportunity to re-locate away from their expensive locations.
Can you imagine an employee of a major company being asked about which section of its operation should be transferred to the rural town of Warminster? Information like the cost of a three-bedroom house is probably half of their current home. They are a 90 minute drive from London or Devon. We can.
Then looking at a vibrant but truthful description of the town and all it has to offer and the vision it has is needed.
Our vision is a community that in all aspects knows where it wants to evolve to. We know that there is the local knowledge and ideas to achieve it.
Last century ‘struggling market town‘.